In highly unusual action Friday, the Los Angeles City Council ordered city attorneys to sue a former Fire Department supervisor who allegedly harassed two firefighters sexually.
At the same time, the council voted to settle sexual harassment suits filed by both of the firefighters, approving a payment of $1 million to one firefighter and $350,000 to another.
After meeting behind closed doors in executive session, the council agreed to pursue the legal action against Richard “Red” Jioras not only to recoup the settlement costs, but to send a message to other city employees. Council members said that although they cannot touch the former battalion chief’s pension, they want to pursue any financial payback possible.
Jioras refused to cooperate with city investigators assigned to the suits and retired instead, city officials said.
“We need to let people know you don’t do this and just walk away,” said Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg. “He just resigned and refused to talk to investigators. Well, he doesn’t just get to walk away.”
Goldberg said she found the case particularly disturbing given Jioras’ rank at the time.
“These are the people we hold responsible for protecting people from exactly these kinds of things,” she said. “This is not some rank-and-file. This was the boss.”
Other council members, who voted swiftly and unanimously, agreed. City attorneys said they could not recall a similar case.
Councilman Joel Wachs said he has pushed for these kinds of lawsuits in the past, but has always been rebuffed by the city’s attorneys, who have told him that the court case would cost more than the possible compensation.
“You have got to send a message,” Wachs said. “People have to be accountable. We’re spending $1.3 million. You know how many firefighters we could hire for that?”
The two firefighters, Nancy Gleysteen and Jan Lowe, who were assigned to the Canoga Park fire station, allege in their complaint that Jioras began sexually harassing them, discriminating against them and inappropriately touching and kissing both of them from June 1994 through May 1996.
The two firefighters said in the complaint that the then-battalion chief would kiss Gleysteen on the neck in an attempt to kiss her on the face, touched her breasts and made numerous sexually explicit statements to both of them. On two occasions, the complaint said, Jioras closed one of two open doors in Lowe’s ambulance, stepped into the closed area and kissed her.
“During the course of their employment with defendant, plaintiffs were repeatedly subjected to unwelcome and offensive sexual harassment . . . from Jioras in the form of verbal and physical sexual advances,” the complaint said.
The firefighters alleged that they feared personal and professional retaliation if they reported the problems they were having with Jioras.
“The conduct . . . was outrageous and beyond all bounds of decency,” the complaint said.
Attempts to reach the firefighters’ attorney, Richard Love, were unsuccessful Friday. Attempts to reach Jioras were also unsuccessful.
But city officials said they believed that the case was so egregious that the city had no choice but to settle the suits.
“One of the problems we have around here is that people believe the city will pick up the bill and that’s it,” Wachs said. “That’s wrong. If we just slap his wrist there’s no discouraging the next person from doing this.”